In just a few days I will be opening "Origami Swans: A Clown's Struggles with Drugs and Alcohol" at the Edge New Works Festival in Grand Forks, North Dakota. As I try to fall asleep tonight, my brain is still buzzing with all the details that need work: Last minute things that need the most attention to rehearse, sound designs, light designs, program designs, set designs, spreading the word, the list seems to go on and on. But I mostly just want to reflect how I got to this point.
So this is a clown show. Most people might be like, WTF? I studied clown during the one year Professional Training Program (PTP) at Dell'arte International in Blue Lake, California, under Ronlin Foreman. That particular unit of study is reputable for its difficulty: It is a process of being ripped apart and built back up, failing over and over again in that quest to "Be funny". On top of that, I started the process of getting a divorce. My whole world, physically-emotionally-spirituality, was falling apart. I left that school stepping into the great unknown. Every "plan" I had for myself was out the window, whether it was doing an MFA program, or doing the married life thing, these options no longer were on the table. And while I had a great enthusiasm as a theatre maker directly afterwards, I also was crumbling inside.
You know your life is getting pretty dark when you're listening to Hank Williams, Sr. at 3 am while taking swigs of whiskey alone in your bedroom.
Eventually, through the course of a perfect storm, I got sober. And life didn't get immediately easier. I just had to deal with self-destructive life patterns without the luxury of alcohol or any other addictive vices.
Somehow I moved to Los Angeles. I just packed up my car and started driving, only knowing a handful of people in Los Angeles at the time. And I made it work. In the first few months, in the boredom of not having a job (you can only job search so many hours in a day before you feel incredibly empty and depressed), I started work on a clown show I was going to call "Bradley". The character of Bradley was created during my clown unit at Dell'arte, though I didn't have the costume for him, save the shirt I used. The character I had no longer existed and I had to discover a new character. In rehearsals for a new thing, I based my exploration on a loose idea of a clown, mistaking himself for dead, and going on an epic journey of fantasy, mime, and slapstick. However, it stalled, I got work, and got involved in some theatre productions, and the show fell apart by itself.
A couple of years into living in LA, and I find myself very engrained in the recovery community, and working at a drug and alcohol treatment center (Professional Treatment at Promises, or PTP. The same acronym for the year long program I attended at Dell'arte. The universe is communicating, no?). I experienced the full gamut of recovery while here: From the miracles, to having clients die from the disease. It was an impactful time in my life, but one thing was missing: Theatre. The job was beginning to take up more and more time as I was promoted, and because of being short-staffed, I was also putting in as much overtime as my mind, body, and spirit could handle. I was depressed, frustrated, and needed a change.
I don't even remember the exact moment that the idea for Origami Swans came into existence, but perhaps I just casually mentioned it to someone, and they were like 'YES!". Somehow, I was convinced that doing this show is exactly what I needed. With the support of several theater makers in Los Angeles (Particularly Olya Petrakova and Bryan Brown of Schkapf/ARTEL), I embarked on this journey. As I began to imagine up the show, sketching out ideas, and writing and writing, I realized to do the show justice I needed some money upfront. Enter: Kickstarter. In 2014 I decided to make a Kickstarter for $2000. I didn't want a prolonged fundraiser to worry about, so I gave myself 15 days to raise the money. Kickstarter is an all or nothing crowdfunding website, so I would take its success or failure as another sign. With two or three days left, I reached my goal, and when the campaign closed I had raised approximately $2200. The green light was go.
At this point, I quit the treatment center to focus on making this piece in a concentrated effort. I took up driving for rideshare companies like Lyft or Uber (I say "like" as if it wasn't Lyft and Uber), started stage managing a show for Olya and Bryan, and came up with an agreement to use their theatre space to incubate my show (I had only a couple of rehearsals).
Well, life continued to get complicated as I began to struggle financially after having a bit more reliable income most of my time in LA, and it seemed obvious that LA was not the place for a clown show. After a visit to Blue Lake, where I happened to run into one of my classmates who was visiting the school at the same time, I was convinced that Portland, Oregon was where I should be developing my show (Another friend, Sean Andries, had been trying to convince me for years of this move as well).
So I packed my car, and headed to Portland, only knowing a handful of people. I met new people, I worked briefly for Imago Theatre (working with a classmate, Pratik Motwani, backstage for the show he was in, FROGZ), collaborated briefly with another company Box of Clowns, and tried to learn as much as I could from all my new friends in Portland (and old friends). In two months though, I couldn't lock down regular employment to get on my feet. By January 4th, 2015, I was broke. I used my paycheck from the Imago Theatre gig to get back to the area I grew up in: Grand Forks, ND.
After being back for just a week or two, I surveyed the landscape and liked what I saw: Young leaders making Grand Forks a city I wanted to be a part of. In fact, if I simply used the knowledge I gained from my excursions on the West Coast, I realized I could add value to the city as well. Conduit Theatre was born.
On top of that, the executive director of the Empire Arts Center, Emily Montgomery, told me about a new festival she was working on, The Edge New Works Festival. What a perfect opportunity to premiere my show finally.
It's been a long journey to this point: From learning about clowning (and also seeing/meeting amazing clown performers in LA, San Francisco, and Portland), to experimenting with a solo show in 2012, to a commitment to creating a show in 2014, and then surviving dramatic life shifts, and finally ready to premiere the show.
The show, I hope, reflects the journey of addiction. Not in one of those "Hey, let me tell you my story" type shows, but rather, a poetic imagining of the inner strife, manifested through the form of clowning, mime, puppetry, magic, spoken word performance, and melodrama.
When creating a show from scratch, I have one goal: To give Birth, and Nurture a living breathing piece of work that takes on a life of its own. If things go well, I'll be touring this show throughout 2016. Hopefully wherever you're reading this from, Origami Swans will be making its way to you in the near future.